Tuesday 25 May 2004

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© 2004 Giles Orr

Up around 0730 this morning, shower, write, breakfast, write. Breakfast here isn't as good as the Singel - similar, but not as much variety. Both places have chocolate spread - there in small single serving packets, here in unlabelled jars. I suspect this stuff is Nutella (ahh, Nutella!). Both places have chocolate sprinkles! I have no idea what to do with that. I put the spread on bread or toast.

My room here is substantially bigger (although bigger than "tiny" doesn't get us to North American sizes) but a little run down. Only a little - I like the place. And the window! Three flights of stairs is horrible (I'm not lazy, they're just so damn steep) but I have a great view and huge window on a quiet, narrow street. Like all of Amsterdam, the buildings across from us are five storeys and shoulder to shoulder. In the Singel I had a window on a wall two feet away. It let in light but didn't offer much of a view.

Streets ... The one I'm over is one lane. The garbage truck this morning had six cars waiting behind it. Six very small cars. Both sides of the street are parked solid, but couldn't be used as traffic lanes as they're not continuous. There are bikes parked everywhere. Canals have (going out from the water's edge) parking, one lane for cars and bikes, two foot posts, sidewalk, buildings. The other side of the canal carries traffic in the opposite direction. Major streets have one lane of bike traffic, one lane of car traffic, and one lane for trams - each going both ways. The tram lanes are raised two inches, and cars will occasionally (rarely) bump over the slanted curb and drive in the tram lanes in the center.

So. This morning I caught the tram to Centraal Station where I met Marcel at 1000. We walked to the Scheepvaartmuseum which has an overwhelming abundance of excellent ships models illustrating the last 400 years of Dutch shipping history. They have lots of other cool stuff, but it was the models that made me really happy. And then you can walk out and board "The Amsterdam," a replica East India Company trading ship. Not an entirely accurate replica - regulations required stairs rather than ladders as well as a few other things - but utterly fascinating nonetheless. Marcel really enjoyed it too, and I'm very glad he urged me to visit because I was going to skip it. We were there three hours!! I almost never stay at tourist sites that long. I bought a chicken tikka sandwich and a Lemon Fanta (Orange Fanta here is utterly different from North American Fanta, and worlds better) from the Albert Hein (grocery store) but Marcel didn't see a sandwich he wanted - he's a picky eater. I ate quickly and we went to the Esnoga Synagogue. You're buzzed through two locked doors to get to the ticket guy who takes €5 from you and makes you take a yamulke to wear in the synagogue. I had Marcel take a picture of me in front of the synagogue with the yamulke on. But the inside was a disappointment. Historically fascinating, but visually unexciting. We took a few pictures and left shortly.

Which happily left us enough time to get to the Willet-Holthuysen museum. The Rough Guide recommends the Van Loon, another restored canal house, but Jesse and her friend both said W-H was better. And besides, the man said, the W-H garden is better. It was only three blocks from the Esnoga. The building looks no different on the outside than any of a dozen next to it, but they've done a fine job inside. And the garden was a wonderful surprise - not because it was pretty (it was) but because I'd walked by it a couple times on Amstelstraat and, not knowing what it was, wanted to get in. Just a really pleasant little twist to the experience.

We sat on a bench on Thorbeckeplein talking about our father's heart problems for a while. His fathers' is less clear-cut but equally traumatic. Eventually we went to "Le Soleil" for pancakes. Pancakes are a fairly big thing here, although not usually for dinner I think. I had bacon and cheese, Marcel had plain. It was pretty good. We wandered, got Vlaamse Frites (Flemish Fries) with mayo, wandered some more. I made him wander through the RLD for twenty minutes or so. But at 1800-1830 it was early and many of the windows/doors were curtained. In a way it was good, because I took a couple pictures of windows, including a "windows for rent" sign. You're told repeatedly that the prostitutes become extremely upset if you try to take their picture - I never tried it.

Travel actually increases my faith in humanity. Even though tourists are rarely popular, I'm generally treated well (I haven't been robbed - that would decrease my faith ...). Kadinsky didn't have an extra drug menu and thus couldn't give me one (a couple professors have requested this to show their students). In later wanderings I took us into a Greenhouse coffeeshop (because I think they were recommended by the guide) and asked if I could have a copy of their drug menu. He said no - they only had one copy, and anyway it would count as advertising which is illegal for the coffeeshops. I said thanks and started to leave, but (having seen the camera around my neck) he said "Of course there's no reason you shouldn't photograph it!" He held it for me too. Like I said, renewing my faith.

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by giles